Minister of Petroleum and Natural Gas
1. Reform the current uniform subsidy scheme on LPG such that it’s tailored to rural households’ affordability.
2. Run awareness campaigns designed for rural communities using radio announcements, community-based broadcasting, panchayats etc. Make the Primary Health Centres and sub-centres, the effective venues for communication to disseminate information about indoor air pollution and its effect on perinatal health.
3. Start incentive schemes to promote the use of LPG in rural areas.
4. Launch a strategic model for implementation of policies promoting clean cooking options like biogas, ICS and electricity-based cookstoves. Also, consider clean fuels for community kitchens to extend the midday meals to all who need them.
Why is this important?
Since the pandemic hit, there has been increasing evidence of the link between the virus’ spread due to increasing air pollution, something most parts of India have been increasingly struggling with.
Here are some alarming statistics -- Over 116,000 infants in India died within a month of birth in 2019 due to air pollution. And if you think smog and construction dust and vehicular emissions were to blame, think again. Household pollution (from burning solid fuels for cooking) accounted for 64% of all such deaths.
Moreover, several studies have suggested that indoor air pollution increases the risk of adverse pregnancy outcomes such as stillbirth, fetal growth retardation and low birth weight. The toll on women and children (especially in rural areas) could rise during the coronavirus pandemic, as household air pollution from dirty fuels and chulhas could make them more susceptible to COVID-19 and other respiratory diseases.
Also, startling studies are coming in showing the effect of PM2.5 exposure on every aspect of the child’s health - from height to IQ to the increased risk of almost 200 diseases, including heart disease, diabetes and stroke. With 98% of India’s children breathing unsafe air, this bodes badly for our future as a nation.
An important point to note here is not just the contribution of chulhas to outdoor air pollution, but also the horrifying levels of exposure to pollution of the people in the house - with PM2.5 levels between 200-4000 μg/m3 inside the homes or classrooms where various solid fuels (wood, dung cake, paper, plastic etc) are burned for cooking.
But why are we still talking about clean cooking when India’s LPG penetration has reached upto 97.5 percent? Good question.
While the government is on track in terms of providing access to LPG, research shows that 85 percent of Ujjwala beneficiaries still use solid fuels for cooking. Although the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojna aimed to provide access to clean cooking, most rural communities are still far from living a ‘smoke-free’ life.
- The programme gives women from BPL households their first gas cylinder, a regulator and a connecting tube.
- After this, families have to buy their own refill cylinders that cost about Rs 800-850 upfront.
- This cost barrier for poor families is why the gas stoves smother in dust and cob-webs and why chulhas remain omnipresent.
- Apart from the expenses involved in buying refills, there are cultural and gender-related reasons why the chulha is not disappearing from rural kitchens. Food cooked on a chulha is considered “healthier” and “tastier” by many and therefore it’s the women of the family who sacrifice their own health and comfort for the comfort of their children, husbands, and other family members.
- Moreover, most of the households lack knowledge about the health hazards of cooking with solid fuels and limit it to temporary effects like eye irritation and coughing etc.
Enabling access to clean cooking is crucial to reducing the health burden and air pollution challenges imposed by burning of solid fuels. To ensure that the cooking methods of households are clean from an air-pollution perspective, we demand strategic policies from the central government that focus on improving LPG availability and usage in rural India.
Air pollution that is choking the urban masses can’t be tackled without taking into account the challenges faced by rural communities.
Join us in asking the Government of India to make clean cooking accessible to rural households, not just on paper but in reality.
Sign the petition and demand the Petroleum Minister to make clean cooking accessible for all.